MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) – The State of Vermont is getting $12 million in COVID-19 relief funds so communities can strengthen programs to combat substance abuse.

In announcing the program at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Thursday, Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy said the isolation and financial hardship brought on by the pandemic has made life even more challenging for people in treatment and recovery.

“I am torn apart when I think about the lives that have been so badly damaged, but then I know what the money can mean at a time of isolation for people in treatment and recovery,” Sen. Leahy said.

The funding includes a two-year, $6 million block grant for the Vermont Department of Health. The money will support prevention, treatment and recovery programs across the state. In March, the Health Department reported that opioid deaths increased 38% in 2020 over the previous year.

Governor Phil Scott said the expansion of life-saving services like fast access to medication-assisted treatment has continued through the pandemic, but it’s not enough.

“I know to those of you who have lost a loved one to addiction or overdose in the last year, none of this matters much,” Scott said. “We understand that, and it motivates us to do better in order to save lives.”

Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray said the funding is an acknowledgement that Vermonters suffering from substance use disorder are seen, and that their elected leaders are working to help.

“This funding, along with the American Rescue Plan funds coming to Vermont for broadband, will allow us to connect more Vermonters, particularly those in underserved communities, with urgently needed treatment and prevention services,” Lt. Gov. Gray said.

Despite the harm caused by isolation during the past 14 months for those with opioid use disorder, Eva Zaret of the Central Vermont Prevention Coalition said there were some silver lining breakthroughs that she noticed.

“You can imagine for a moment a mom in treatment who now has the options of telemedicine and take-home medications to ease the burden of childcare and transportation who can now stay focused on a successful recovery,” Zaret said.

Montpelier Police Chief Brian Peete said the coalition’s earlier work in developing a community-wide response to substance use disorders helped address the unique challenges brought on by COVID.